Everything Is Awesome When We’re Living Our Dream

So… the dance field trip that I went on last weekend turned out to be bizarre. There was this dance party scheduled on the second floor of a building that was near the place we went to get ice cream after every Friday night dance over the summer. I had found out earlier in the day that this was actually an after-Valentine’s Day dance for singles, which initially sounded like a good way for me to find a hot date, except that it turned out that it was for singles over 40, so I was really on the young side in that room when I wandered away from the people I went with.

There were a few random people that attended this party with us who don’t usually go on dance field trips with the rest of us. The Heartbreak Awesome1Kid had invited Amazon to come along, so we met up with her when we got to the venue. I had invited the cleaning crew to come along on our trip. They work so hard making sure that the dance halls we compete in are safe, sterile and clean, I thought that they deserved to come out and party with us this time. They don’t really know much about dancing, but they made up for that with their zeal. Sparkledancer had also brought along a guy named Mister whom she had met recently during some carousing around the city. They started talking because he had taken up ballroom dancing a few months ago at the Southern Gem Dance Hall, and was even going to be competing as a newcomer at a big competition that is going on soon a bit north of our usual stomping grounds. He was a really nice guy to talk to, but I think being around all of us from the Land of the Loft made him nervous. It took several strong drinks before he finally said he was ready to take someone out to the dance floor. I tried my best to encourage him throughout the night, letting him know whether the song playing was a Cha-Cha, Jive, Hustle or East Coast Swing. It was nice having an extra guy around to help dance with all the women who are in our group, so I wanted to help however I could.

This dance was held on the second floor, as I said. There was one entrance that everyone poured in from, a few tables set up around the outside of the room, and a big space cleared on the far side from the entrance to be used as a dance floor. The floor was crazy – even Awesome2wearing street shoes (because I never feel good about bringing my actual dance shoes into a bar that may have sticky floors), you could slide around all over the place. The floor was so slippery that at times I had the girl I was dancing with grab my arms tightly during some turns because she was losing her footing. No one fell, thankfully, but I imagine it was kind of like dancing on a frozen lake – and not in that currently in vogue ice-dancing kind of way, but in the crazy test-of-personal-agility kind of way. As the night wore on, and presumably more of the attendees had more to drink, the dance floor became crowded, but the majority of the people who came upstairs stayed in a large mesh that encircled the dance floor, and they all stood around and watched everything.

The craziest thing that happened to me all night came when, at some point during the evening after working up a sweat dancing, I decided to stop and get a glass of water. The establishment had lovingly provided a self-serve container and some glasses on a table against the wall, so I wandered over there by myself to get some. As I was filling up a glass, this very drunk older woman came over and started talking to me. At first it was pretty innocent… she was swaying around and stumbling through some of her words as her friends stood nearby and laughed. Then she grabbed hold of my arm to steady herself, and that’s when everything started going downhill. See, I have this habit of tensing up whenever people grab me unexpectedly, and when I did that, her eyes went all big, and then she started massaging my bicep. She asked me how old I was, and when I told her she started saying that she was old enough to be my mother and that it was crazy for me to come hang out at a party like this. Waving over her friends, she told them they should all grab me as well. As I was squirming under the unexpected attention, Sparkledancer came over. She had seen what was going on from where she had been standing, and I thought she was coming to help by giving me an excuse to wander away, but she started talking with my new “friend” and told her that I was a great dancer, and that we should go out to the dance floor together. Sighing, I handed Sparkledancer my water glass and thanked her for finding me a date (sarcastically, of course), and the tried to lead the woman out to the dance floor. She ran into several people just trying to follow me, so I walked behind her with my hand on her shoulder to steer her out to an area of the dance floor where there was lots of open space to avoid other dancers.

The song currently playing was a Jive, so I started to move and thought that the woman would just allow me to whirl her around for the remainder of the song. How wrong I was. What ended up happening was she spent her time mercilessly groping me. Everywhere (and I mean everywhere). I tried to hang on to her hand while dancing, so that I could prevent her from grabbing me and also lead her through some turns, but she didn’t want to be lead and kept pulling away. For some reason, she really liked moving behind me and either grabbing my butt, or wrapping her arms around my waist and sliding her hands all over… well, I’m sure you get the idea. After the second time she tried to pull that trick on me, I switched over to dancing around her, keeping her at least arms-length for safety. When the song finished up, she was laughing and hugging me, and I could see all the people I had come to the party with across the room also laughing at me. My face must have been bright red – it certainly felt like it was. I led her back to where I originally found her and then ducked into the crowd as quickly as I could.

That's probably pretty close to my actual reaction...
That’s probably pretty close to my actual reaction…

These are the things I get into while practicing to be a competitive dancer. I’m just living the dream, aren’t I?

With the snow last week shutting down everything (yes, I know… we here in the south can’t handle a few inches of snow), classes this week are moving a bit more rapidly to make up for lost time. We also have Arcee hanging out with us at the Land of the Loft right now. As Tall Steven is busy already winning over the hearts and minds of the peasants in a new land for the King, Arcee is training with Lady Q and Lord Fabulous to battle alongside Tall Steven. That was kind of a surprise to me – I didn’t spend a lot of time hanging out at the Great Dance Hall, but every time I was there she was always around. I guess I always assumed that she was already trained as a Lady of the Dance Kingdom, but she was really only Tall Steven’s competitive partner. I would see her at the dance competitions I would compete in, and usually you could find her maintaining the on-deck line for each heat, so you can see why I thought she was a member of the nobility. Because of her competitive experience she knows the female parts for all the dance styles, so now she is taking a crash course in the male part. Based on what I’ve seen in the last few days, I don’t think it will take her long to know the lead better than I do.
Awesome4  Arcee has this air of intimidating intensity about her while she is practicing off to the side of the room. Watching her makes me wonder if I sometimes give off the same vibe when new dancers see me doing things at the studio while they are there. I don’t think I am all that good, having not yet completed the Bronze-level syllabus, but to a newcomer do I look just as serious and intimidating? I don’t want them to be afraid of me. It wasn’t that long ago that I was in their shoes, so I can still relate to them. Maybe I’ll have to do a poll at the end of the next newcomer class that I show up in the middle of, to see how they view me. For scientific purposes, of course.

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Put Your Hands Up, Make ‘Em Touch

Showcase was a good time this year. Since I was not performing, I could relax (something I didn’t do last year) and take in everything. There were almost a hundred acts scheduled that night, which was much bigger than last year’s event. Because of the sheer number of performances they wanted to get through that night, everything ran quickly – each act went on as soon as the previous act started walking off, and they only took a short ten minute break in between each of the four acts. The performances covered almost all the styles of dance in both the American and International categories, so there was something there for everyone. The sheer winner for the night, as far as dance styles go, was the Tango. Out of all the acts performed, Tango came away with 18% of the slots. The only other style that came close was the Cha-Cha with 13%. At the bottom of the list of styles represented was West Coast Swing, with only one act brave enough to attempt a routine in that style. The next would be Jive and Pasodoble, which both had only 3% of the acts. Those of us in attendance from the Land of the Loft were collected in the back of the room around a table. That was probably the best place for us, since we had gone there planning on being obnoxiously supportive to our studio-mates who were performing.
Applause1 What did I take away from the showcase, since I got to be on the other side of it this year? The main point that I feel is the most important is: to perform for an audience like this, you have to come across as being confident, energetic and fun, and engaging the audience doesn’t hurt either. To premise this, let me say that there were a lot of performances that I watched were you could tell it was their first time being out on stage and dancing in front of everyone. I did like watching those routines, and I was very proud of them for having the courage to do that. I remember what it was like when I was talked into dancing in front of an audience the first time, and it was terrifying. If I were to go back and watch the video of that performance, I would probably see that I was nervous, and my movements looked timid and stiff, and I probably wasn’t very interesting. Seeing that would also probably only further emphasize the point I learned and am trying to start relating here, actually…

It was fairly easy to tell which acts appealed to the audience the most – they provided direct feedback in the form of applause. Based on those reactions, it was easy to see that the acts that people responded to the most had something about them. Some kind of… pizzaz, for lack of a better word. The acts most people seemed to enjoy contained at least one of a couple of elements that Applause2people responded to: some had a theme that made them stand out, like the Tango that was done to the theme song of, and with the performers dressed up like characters from a popular fighting video game (I’m sure you know the one I’m talking about). Others had exciting athletic movements in them, like figures where the male would pick the female off the ground in some kind lift, and the more difficult the lift looked, the more the audience responded. These two elements, as they caused a reaction from the audience, seemed to feed the energy from the audience into the performers. The more the audience responded, the more the performers would smile, and the broader their movements would seem.

The third element that seemed to elicit the most response from the audience is harder to place. It involves confidence on the part of the performer. Some performers just look like they were in control out on the floor. They have that air about them that makes you want to watch them, that holds your interest with every step they take. The confidence, for many people, comes from experience. The more one is out on the floor, the better they feel about going out there without freezing up. People who have never performed before don’t have that. I remember the first performance I was in… for most of the entire two minutes of that routine, I was so worried about messing up the steps. I had practiced so much, and could run through it in my memory in my sleep. I spent most of the act my performance I was in warming up, going through the steps over and over to make sure I wouldn’t mess up. Even though I didn’t misstep, because I was nervous the movements probably looked a lot like some of the other newcomers I saw performing at this event – pretty tepid. I think that the more I’ve done competitions, the more I’ve danced with people, the less timid I look when people watch me. Performances without that confidence, without that energy, they did not elicit the same response from the crowd.

So that’s why I took those things away from the performance. For future performances I do, I’m going to have to work on making sure that I look Applause3confident, and try to draw the eyes of the crowd with the energy that I put forth during the performance, so that I can get the most applause. I get the feeling that in some ways it would be much better to be interesting to watch than technically perfect, even if you are being judged for your technical skill. Maybe the more interesting you are, the more the judge would want to watch you, and the better your overall scores. Maybe. I don’t really know for sure. But it gives me something else to strive for while I’m learning. And this is something I can practice anywhere, even while on any of the random dance field trips that I take with people, so I can start working on it right away. Even this weekend, since there’s a good chance a bunch of us will be going out on a dance field trip on Saturday night!

The event also allowed them to make some announcements to the general public who was in attendance. The major announcement heard that evening was that Tall Steven and Arcee had decided to move out of the Dance Kingdom here in Charlotte and go down to claim lands for the King and Princess in Florida. His students, many of which he had been training and competing with for quite a long time, were very sad about the news. One of them remarked that the performances were “bittersweet” as she did one of her showcase dance routines with Lord Bradley, whom she would start training with once Tall Steven leaves. This is now the third state that the King has claimed land within. They made another announcement that night that the battles they had been waging within Georgia had been going well, and that they had opened a second studio there to help more peasants become acquainted with the Dance Lords and Ladies that were trained by the King here in the Dance Kingdom. But something tells me that Florida is very important to them, if they are sending one of their greatest champions down there to start the siege. He will be missed.
Applause4  In other news, there is a rumor starting to whirl around in the Dance Kingdom that is very exciting, and could change some things up if it’s true. I heard the rumor from someone I consider a reputable source, who told me that she heard it from a reputable source, so there’s a good chance it is true. Once I manage to verify it myself and decide what to do about it, I’m sure I’ll tell you all about it. Until then, you’ll just have to wait and guess!

Can You Feel The Rhythm Burning?

In the final International Waltz class we had last Friday, I felt like more of a prop than I usually do. Like I was nothing more than… a dance dummy, used as teaching material fRhythmDivine1or demonstration purposes. When we started the month, Lord Fabulous would at least try to include the other people in the class. He would ask questions that everyone was allowed to answer, and try to get people to volunteer to demonstrate figures after he showed everyone the steps, and only resorted to calling Sparkledancer and I out to the floor if no one else spoke up. He knew that both of us already knew all the figures and techniques, because almost all of them were part of our last competition routine. This class, however, there was no offer to let others do anything or answer any of the questions, he just called us out for everything. Sparkledancer and I spent most of that class in the middle of the room, either being asked to step through the figures slowly so that everyone could see what we were up to, or sometimes even just standing there while Lord Fabulous posed us to show the nuances of the proper movements. It was kind of awkward being posed like a manikin. Then again, this isn’t the first time I have been asked to be the dance dummy, and I’m fairly certain it won’t be the last. Next Friday we will switch over to go through Paso Doble again, and half the people I expect to take the class with us haven’t done that style of dance before, let alone taken the class. All of the figures I think we’ll go through in class I believe are already in the competition routine that Lady Q taught me, so it may end up being a whole month of being the dance dummy. It’s not all bad though – it helps reinforce the things I’ve learned previously.

Saturday during a coaching session with Lord Fabulous, we went back to International styles to work on putting together routines. The first one was International Tango. This was the first time that I have ever really looked at the International Tango; I’ve always done American Tango before, and the only other style of Tango I’ve watched people do was the Argentinian Tango. The things we went over didn’t seem too bad, just different enough from the American style figures I already knew to mix me up several times. The progressive side step that I was shown will probably take a bit of doing just to cement it in place as the new “basic” step of this style. The head flick, which I was told RhythmDivine2was a very International Tango thing, is a bit weird, but then I’m not much of a Tango person in general, so the stylistic pieces of the dance just weird me out in general. I think I’m just at the point where I’ve moved beyond thinking of Tango as just “that dance people do with a rose in their mouth,” but I don’t know if I will ever learn to appreciate it on the same level that Lord Fabulous seems to. By the time we moved on to the next dance style, we had put together figures to cover one long wall and one short wall. Halfway around felt pretty good for one day when doing a style I’ve never really done before.

We switched over to Samba next. It’s been a long time since I’ve done Samba in any form other than line-dance form, so I was feeling a bit rusty. Nothing we mapped out for the first long wall was terribly difficult though, so that helped. We did put in the traveling botafogos, much to my delight. That means that I have even more of a reason to start saying that word… botafogo… it’s my favorite word that I’ve learned from dancing, so the more chances I have to use it, the better. As we finished up working on the pieces of the Samba for the day, Sparkledancer and I started talking with Lord Fabulous about the plan to add in some coaching sessions every other week with Lady Q. We all agreed to make it happen, and try and schedule them so they ran back-to-back with our already scheduled Saturday time slot with him, just to make things easier for everyone. We told Lady Q about the idea as she was walking by, and she was excited about it. She had originally wanted to work with us to create a Samba routine once we finished up our Paso Doble routine with her, but since Lord Fabulous seems to have taken that upon himself, I’m not sure what we’ll be doing with her now. Maybe we’ll have her work with us on getting the crazy rhythm bounce technique correct, and I might cajole her into changing what we did with Lord Fabulous to add in more botafogos, because more of them would increase my level of joy.

Because it’s a new month, all new group classes have started. Fridays, as I said earlier, are going to swap over to Paso Doble. Wednesdays are switching from Jive to American Viennese Waltz. I always love taking Viennese Waltz classes, since it gives me an opportunity to practice this terrifying style, and learn other cool things that I can do while moving rapidly around the room. This month though, half of the people in class with us have never done Viennese Waltz before. Ever. So I don’t think we will be going over any stuff that is new to me at any point this month. Much like Jive class was last RhythmDivine3month, this month is going to end up being exhausting – it’s another high-energy dance, with three males in class and (at least this week) seven females, so I do a lot of work so that every lady can get two or three chances to practice the steps. We spent the entire class period this week just going through the reverse turn, which was a bit of a struggle. It seems like many people have this notion of personal space that they don’t like invaded, or don’t like invading with other people. A dance like Viennese Waltz works better if you can stand closer to your partner, because it makes it much easier to rotate around them if they aren’t arm’s length away from you. Some people just didn’t like standing too close to me, so we struggled to travel down the floor. I mean, I did take a shower before going to dance class that night, so I don’t think they thought I smelled bad or anything. I figure that we’re all dance friends, so there’s no reason to have personal space issues, right?

This coming Saturday night will be the showcase party. Apparently it’s going to be huge – Lord Fabulous mentioned there were close to 100 acts going on that night. Supposedly they are opening the doors with the first course of the meal already on the tables to help speed things along. It should be a good time. All the people from the Land of the Loft are going to gather around a few tables together and be loud and obnoxious whenever one of our own is on the stage, because that’s what makes dance performances fun. I’ll try and bring something to write on while I’m there, so I can make some notes to tell you all about after the party is over.

Botafogo!

Leaving Footprints All Over Town

We finalized a couple of other routines during my last coaching lesson with Lord Fabulous on Saturday. He now says that when the three of us meet each week, we are going to switch between International and American styles every other week. This past weekend being the first like this, we started with American styles. We went through and completed a Foxtrot routine in the first half of our time together. It reminds me a lot of my last Foxtrot routine, except it seems like every figure finishes CatchMyBreath1with a three-step turn. It almost makes me feel weird with how many times we will end up doing that turn in each of the two minute heats. Once we finished up putting that routine together and going through it a few times, we switched over to Viennese Waltz and finally put some order to all the pieces of that we had been working on for the last couple of months. That one shouldn’t be difficult to get memorized, just difficult to find space to practice the whole thing without running in to anyone. Lately it seems like there are always a ton of people milling about on the floor at the Land of the Loft, making it hard to go through things there. I’m wondering if I’m going to have to set aside some time to stay there late and see if I can monopolize the floor after most people go home.

Part of what we did when finalizing these routines was to put in some options for variation. This competition is being billed as something more like advanced social dancing, rather than the fixed competition routines we had worked out for the last competition I was in. The ballroom routines are just a baseline to use that can be altered depending on what other people are doing on the floor. The Latin and Rhythm routines shouldn’t have that problem necessarily. Last year when I did this same competition, there was one extremely high-level student that was there using the space to practice for an out-of-state competition she was doing the next month, so a lot of the other competitors were thrown off by what she was doing that took up most of the floor space. If they had told us last year that it was more like advanced social dancing and it was ok to break routine, I think I would have prepared for it in a much different manner. This year, I will be going into it with enough variation (and much more experience) to avoid getting thrown off by anyone doing crazy things that aren’t expected. Here’s hoping that is a huge improvement over last year. I’m excited to be able to directly compare my scores to see if I’ve gotten any better.

The lesson I had with Lady Q was also on Saturday, and we finally finished stepping through the initial layout of the Paso Doble routine. None of the pieces are all that difficult, but it will take a couple of runs to get it memorized, and the real test comes once that happens. Generally, when I have a routine down in memory and I’m feeling more confident doing it, I will take larger steps.  There are some pieces that may have to be adjusted if we find that we can cover more than the allotted space while doing the routine, since it is built to start and finish in the same spot once you go all the way around the floor. Lady Q told us that she doesn’t really want us to hold back and take smaller steps to force the figures to fit the room, rather she will alter the routine based on where we end up using the normal length of my stride. With that routine also now finished and added to the list, that gives me five total routines that have been mapped out to completion. I’m pretty sure that I technically also have an International Viennese Waltz routine, since I’m still considered Bronze level and there are only four figures to choose from, but I’ll just keep that in my back pocket until I’m given the green light to use that.

I also got an invite from Indiana (the girl I met New Year’s Eve who turned out to be a dance instructor) to come to a class that she was teaching at a studio downtown. She was in town for the weekend, getting things set up to move down here in a couple of CatchMyBreath2weeks, and had wanted to put together a group class so that she could meet some people from the area and get to know what the dance scene was like, and let people know what she was like as an instructor. She billed the class as Advanced American Waltz, so it sounded really intriguing. Putting the word out to some of my fellow dancers from the Land of the Loft, we had a small-ish class with her and a lot of floor space on a Sunday afternoon to work with. Indiana had a particular pattern that she wanted to go through with everyone, something built for Waltz but that would also function for Foxtrot with some minor changes. While dancing with Indiana, I talked with her about moving. She was super excited to be coming to live in our fair city with all of us, and said that she would even love to accompany us on some of our dance field trips that we take once she is all settled in. The craziest part of that class was near the end, when some people started showing up for some kind of competition class. They were warming up in the back corner – doing push-ups and jumping rope, then they started running laps around the studio. They looked very serious the whole time. I would much rather do a serious workout with a softer floor, but that’s just my personal preference.

Otherwise, it’s the last week of the month, so all the group classes at the Land of the Loft are wrapping up. Wednesday night was the last Jive class. We spent some time going over a figure that they kept calling “side by side kicks,” though when I originally learned the East Coast Swing version they called it the Mooch. I’m not sure why exactly they decided to call it something different now. If Lady Q had called it by the name I knew, I don’t think she would have had to step through it so slowly. I was expecting there to be something different, but there wasn’t. I’ll probably still refer to it by the name I am more used to when I talk to people about it (you know, all those times I’m wandering around and randomly fall into Mooch-related conversations with strangers). Thursday night we had the last Rumba class of the month with Hot Tottie. CatchMyBreath3I started the class worried I was going to be the only guy there, but Jack showed up a few minutes late to help out. That improved my mood greatly. Corte was in class with us tonight, and I spent my time dancing with her talking about her Little Mermaid t-shirt, and how I could probably sing all the songs from that movie even to this day. Luckily she didn’t ask me to try, or I’m sure that would have caused the class to end early and everyone to rush out of the building.

It’s almost February, can you believe it? There is one more International Waltz class tomorrow night, and then we start new classes next month, with all new fun things to review. Sparkledancer and I have been having discussions when we see each other at the Land of the Loft about possibly starting to do a coaching session every other week with Lady Q. I think both of us have kind of gotten fixated on the idea of really having a routine down for every dance style by the time the April competition shows up, and having Lady Q work with us as well as Lord Fabulous should help make that a reality. Plus, Lady Q will be able to go through some things with Sparkledancer that Lord Fabulous just won’t know, because she knows the female part better than he does. So, with a new month coming up, we may start doing that as well. There’s all kinds of things to look forward to in February!